Knocking Down Doors

by mshrm

I get the feeling that last session was when the players finally got sick of all these doors getting in their way. They’ve knocked ’em down before, but now they’re lighting them on fire and talking about adding a ram to their party supplies. So, I reckon now’s the time to talk about them.

In previous games, when somebody wanted to shoulder open a door, we used what I like to call the “Starsky & Hutch” method:  a roll against Forced Entry, at whatever modifier seemed appropriate. Now, by “previous games”, I’m thinking of a couple of modern-day supers games, a supernatural Old West campaign, and the two “seasons” of the Space Cowboys thing. For the most part, when a door got in the way in those games, either somebody blew it off its hinges with overwhelming force, or the door itself was some kind of wimpy internal privacy door kind of thing, and didn’t represent much of a real barrier. Getting past the door was simplified, so we could get on to the scenery-chewing on the far side of that door.

This, however, is Dungeon Fantasy. If the party was supposed to have unlimited freedom of movement, it would be called Big Flat Plain Fantasy. The doors are as much as part of that as the narrow stairways and twisty corridors. They deserve a little more attention than we’ve given them in the past.

You shall not pass!

You shall not pass!

The original dungeon doors are built for security. Take this pic, for example. I would consider this a pretty typical door, coming off a main hallway. Within a group of rooms, you might find lighter doors… but more likely, you’ll find a curtain. Or, rather, the furniture to hang one. Big hallways, though, tend to have been the equivalent of streets. They get the heavy doors, the kind that are meant to keep out invading goblinoid armies.

Clearly, breaking this thing down by force isn’t just a question of hitting it with your shoulder. At least, not for a party without a barbarian. Alric might have been able to force some of those doors, but without him, the party just didn’t have enough gristle to get the job done. They had to fall back on crowbars. Bashing down a door is a question of Damage Resistance and Hit Points, and doors like this have a decent amount of both. The longer it takes to knock it down, the more of a racket the party is making, and the more wandering monsters they’re attracting. Not to mention, that first blow costs the element of surprise.

Burning the door isn’t all that much better. It’s no sure thing. Back in the day, Gygax assumed that any dungeon door would likely be so swollen with moisture as to be stuck in its frame, requiring a roll just to open. Entirely separate from the roll to pick the lock, if any. Areas that aren’t so dry, might not have doors that are so easily ignited.

Fire loses on stealth, too. It might not be as loud as beating the thing down with brute force, but a roaring bonfire like you’d get from a four-inch thick wooden door is still something to draw attention. It makes noise, it sheds light and heat, and perhaps worst of all, the smell of smoke carries. When somebody down the street lights their barbecue in the spring or lights a fire in their fireplace in the fall, I know it. If I can smell it, you can bet that Argh The Killer Orc from three doors down can, too… not to mention whatever Big Ugly just had its front door lit on fire.

Finally, when it comes to fire, you’ve got to ask yourself:  how far do I trust these dwarven ventilation systems that haven’t been systematically maintained in about a hundred years? One of the oldest questions in my “to do and post about” list is “How big of a fire, for how long, would it take to suck up enough oxygen to cause problems for adventurers?”  Mines and the like are notorious for bad air and explosive fumes. Deeper down in the dwarven mines, this might start to become a bigger factor…